"Hero" journalist under attack with bribe allegations

10:27, December 11, 2010      

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A journalist who was hunted by the police after exposing the illegal dealings of a central China company is in the news again -- this time as the subject of corruption allegations.

Qiu Ziming, a reporter in the Shanghai bureau of the Economic Observer News, has been named as the recipient of a 50,000-yuan (7,463 U.S. dollars) bribe, while another official at the newspaper is alleged to have taken 800,000 yuan (119,403 U.S. dollars) in bribes.

However, no sources or other details were given in the allegation first made by Chengdu Business Daily journalist Long Can on t.sina.com.cn, a Chinese microblogging site affiliated to Sina.com.

Long made the claim after Wang Xiaoshan, a well-known freelancer, suggested Monday that Qiu, 28, be named "Journalist of the Year" for his "fearless spirit."

Qiu told Xinhua by phone that his newspaper had ordered him not to speak publicly about the bribe allegations. "I am not allowed to give interviews. My newspaper has told staff they must seek authorization before speaking to the media."

However, the allegation has sparked a heated debate among Chinese media circles with thousands of comments appearing on-line.

Radio France Internationale journalist Cao Guoxing, on his own t.sina microblog, repeated the charge against Qiu and alleged Wang Shengzhong, deputy chief editor of the newspaper, had received the 800,000-yuan bribe.

Wang Xiaoshan and Qiu Ziming were among many who posted responses demanding evidence to support the claims.

"All the claims begin with 'said to be,' but what are the sources?" Qiu asked. "Do not spread rumors starting 'said to be' without evidence."

"Some journalists do blackmail companies with negative reports to make money, but I've never done it," he wrote.

Qiu first became the news when he went into hiding after police in Suichang County, Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, issued a warrant for his arrest on July 23.

They said Zhejiang Kan Specialty Material Co., Ltd. had accused him of defaming the company in a series of four "fabricated" reports beginning June 5.

Qiu's reports questioned the company's actions, including allegations of illegal occupation of state-owned assets and obtaining capital from another listed company by using forged land use rights documents.

The warrant triggered a furious debate on its legality and the rights of journalists. Eventually county police and government officials traveled to Beijing the day after they canceled the warrant on July 30 to apologize to Qiu.

Qiu became a media hero for standing up to his illegal treatment and the number of his Sina microblog followers has exceeded 39,500.

"There is no evidence that our officials or journalists have received any bribes," said Liu Jian, president of the Economic Observer News .

Liu said the paper launched an in-house investigation Monday immediately after the claim appeared, but as yet no evidence of bribery had been discovered.

Liu thought it was irresponsible to accuse the newspaper without any evidence.

"I have told other journalists that if you trust the Economic Observer News, please show us the evidence and we will investigate it. If you do not trust us, please report all the evidence in your newspaper, and let the police do the investigation," Liu said.

"It is easy to prove someone guilty, but not easy for someone to prove his innocence. How can we do it?" Liu said.

"One of my staff said on-line that he would be ashamed to be one on the staff of my newspaper if the bribery allegations were true. You can imagine how great the pressure is," he said.

"Qiu simply did what he should do, which dosen't make him a hero. Revealing the truth is the duty of a journalist," he said.

Police and government officials told Xinhua on Wednesday they had closed their investigation of Qiu, despite saying on July 30 the probe would continue.

"No report about the 800,000 yuan bribe was received and no investigation has been launched," said Ye Jinrong, police chief of Suichang County.

Wang Shengzhong, who was said to have received the larger bribe, denied the claim in a telephone interview.

"I didn't do that. I am innocent and confident. I have nothing to explain," he said.

Wang Shengzhong said the controversy was a continuation of the "Qiu Ziming case."

"The case highlighted an issue: the rights of journalists are not well protected," he said.

Qiu's case was a milestone in the protection of Chinese journalists' rights, he said. "I spoke out for Qiu at the time because the rights of our newspaper's journalists should be protected."

"Qiu was hailed as a hero by Wang Xiaoshan and other ordinary people, but some people resent that," Wang Shengzhong said.

He said he had no plan to take libel action in the courts. "I do not want to debate with anyone nor sue anyone. The accusation is nonsense."

He planed to held a meeting for his staff next Monday to discuss the ethics of journalism. "The first rule of journalism should be 'truth.' Evidence must be shown when you report something."

The on-line debate has continued with Piao Baoyi, a journalist at CEIBS Business Review, saying on his t.sina microblog that the newspaper faced a challenge in self-policing ethical standards.

"China's media has finally launched an ethics campaign after months of silence," he wrote on-line.

Zhang Weiwei, Beijing-based journalist of a Shanghai-based newspaper, also dismissed claims that Qiu was a hero, "The online views tend to consider the wrongly arrested person to be a hero, but I don't agree.

"Qiu was wrongly wanted and was hailed as a hero. Everything happened to him. It was just a kind of misunderstanding," Zhang said. Enditem

(Local reporter Fang Lie also contributed to the story.)

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